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Toolmaking and the evolution of normative cognition

Birch, Jonathan ORCID: 0000-0001-7517-4759 (2021) Toolmaking and the evolution of normative cognition. Biology and Philosophy, 36 (1). ISSN 0169-3867

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Identification Number: 10.1007/s10539-020-09777-9


We are all guided by thousands of norms, but how did our capacity for normative cognition evolve? I propose there is a deep but neglected link between normative cognition and practical skill. In modern humans, complex motor skills and craft skills, such as toolmaking, are guided by internally represented norms of correct performance. Moreover, it is plausible that core components of human normative cognition evolved as a solution to the distinctive problems of transmitting complex motor skills and craft skills, especially skills related to toolmaking, through social learning. If this is correct, the expansion of the normative domain beyond technique to encompass more abstract norms of fairness, reciprocity, ritual and kinship involved the elaboration of a basic platform for the guidance of skilled action by technical norms. This article motivates and defends this “skill hypothesis” for the origin of normative cognition and sets out various ways in which it could be empirically tested.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2021 The Author
Divisions: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Date Deposited: 06 Jan 2021 16:54
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 02:56

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